The Community Rejuvenation Project cultivates healthy communities through beautification, education, and celebration. We achieve this mission through experiential programs that promote professional development, artistic and cultural expression, and community empowerment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Redevelopment Cuts Point to Growing Need for Comprehensive Abatement Strategy

Redevelopment Cuts Point to Growing Need for Comprehensive Abatement Strategy

CRP's massive Peace and Dignity mural was a commission through Oakland's Redevelopment Agency. Photo by Eric Arnold.
CRP would like to extend its sincerest appreciation to the city of Oakland for attempting to address blight in East Oakland and involve talented artists such as Dan Fontes, the Estria Foundation and our organization. However, Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to cut state redevelopment agencies, thereby throwing cities all over California into limbo, has left these projects with an uncertain future at best. Even more tragic is the fact these mural projects had run the gauntlet of bureaucratic red tape; they awaited only City Council approval when they were cut. But if new funding isn’t identified and earmarked, these projects will simply disappear, as if they never existed.
North and South unites on the corners of 41st and International. This project was funded by the Oakland's Redevelopment Agency. Photo by Eric Arnold.
These projects represented game-changers for East Oakland, a historically underdeveloped district which has remained an eyesore as other commercial districts have been built up. Abandoning them sends a clear message that the much-ballyhooed Oakland renaissance isn’t for all of its city’s residents.
During his eight years as Oakland mayor, Brown’s 10k plan highlighted the gentrification of Uptown, funneling millions of dollars in redevelopment monies to an emerging district, at the expense of other parts of Oakland. Public art projects in and around Uptown were funded to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, even as art programs were slashed in the city’s less-tony areas.
In the short term, this plan benefitted developers while falling short of initial occupancy projections. In the long-term, it helped generate political momentum for Brown’s eventual runs for state Attorney General and ultimately, Governor. It is the deepest and most bitter irony that a politician whose career benefitted so much from redevelopment funding would then seek to cut those funds for the city whose well-being he once was accountable.
This is the situation we find ourselves in today.
The problem with this approach is, if you take away the funding, you still have done nothing to alleviate the underlying issue. Thusfar, the City of Oakland has made no provision for alternate funding for these critical public art programs. These cuts are especially cruel because the area in which the murals were slated to be painted in—colloquially referred to as “Deep East Oakland”—has a dire need for rejuvenatory art. The area between Hegenberger and 106th Ave. is a high-blight, high-crime area plagued by prostitution and drug use. The area between Hegenberger and 23rd Ave is almost as bad. Without effective blight reduction, the issues facing both areas will likely worsen.
Current abatement measures and policy have proven ineffective and failed to improve the aesthetics in neglected Oakland communities. Photo by Desi W.O.M.E
Blight continues to be an ongoing problem, especially since the foreclosure crisis continues to take its toll on homeowners. Oakland, whose foreclosure rate in 2011 was more than double the national average, has been among one of the most impacted cities in California; East Oakland in particular has been one of the most affected regions in the city by the housing crisis.
Current abatement measures, such as the graffiti abatement squad, are inefficient at best. Buffing walls is a temporary fix: It doesn’t deter vandalism recidivism, is aesthetically unattractive, and requires frequent and regular maintenance. It's also cost-inefficient.
CRP's recent mural on 30th and West was commissioned by a property owner looking for a permanent solution to the reoccurring vandalism on his property. Photo by Eric Arnold.
Community murals, on the other hand, are not just pretty public art projects but part of an effective blight reduction/community development strategy. Besides offering an attractive visual picture, murals prevent property values from dropping, by as much as 15-20%, and are an effective deterrent to tagging and other blight-related crimes, such as drug use, vandalism, squatting, and prostitution.They are also more cost-efficient than current abatement programs and require less maintenance over time.
CRP's "Sacred Seeds" mural brings new life to a long dilapidated building on Stanford Ave. Photo by Mike 360.
What is needed for the future of Oakland is a long-term funding for a year-round mural program as part of integrated abatement/blight reduction/youth development/health index initiative. Such a program could be run at a fraction of the cost of current programs with more effective, comprehensive, and holistic outcomes. The two main departments which are stakeholders in this effort are Building Services and Department of Public Works. Other possible stakeholders include Cultural Arts Department, Measure Y, and City Council Districts 5, 6 & 7.
It is in the best interest of all stakeholders to work together to come up with a long-term solution to the ongoing problem of blight and abatement. Failure to do so can only drag our city down back into the depths from which it has struggled so mightily to emerge from.
For more information about CRP, interviews with CRP artists, or sample images for media usage, contact Desi at or (510) 269-7840.

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